Becky Schlegel: Interior dialogues from the outer reaches of time and memory

Poetry In Emotion
By David McGee

Becky Schlegel
Lilly Ray Records




If I were a poet
If my words were true
I’d write a song to sing to you
I’d tell you how the years have come
And tell you how the years
Have gone away…

These words, rendered in a crystalline whisper at the end of her new album, in a song titled “If I Were a Poet,” are the Rosetta Stone of Becky Schlegel’s interior dialogues from the outer reaches of time and memory.  The past weighs heavily on the reflections she shares on Dandelion, and, as in Francine du Plessix Gray’s novel Lovers & Tyrants, it lies behind Schlegel in muted colors. These aren’t songs about love newly fled, but about the contrast between feelings years, maybe decades, old, and the weight of those on the present day. Sadness permeates the baker’s dozen tunes here, but Dandelion refuses to buckle under to despair—there’s a resilience in Schlegel’s tender, winsome voice, a searching, Alison Krauss-like quality, even a pentimento of hope under the ache, because there was a point in time when hearts engaged on a positive, spiritually elevated plane and the idea of forever seemed within the realm of possibility, so close at hand as to be palpable.

becky-schlegalThis much is clear from the outset, on the album opening portrait of “Anna,” starkly delivered against a simple backdrop provided by Schlegel’s steadily strummed acoustic guitar, with short, sharp punctuations from Kenny Wilson on electric guitar, and a subtle, groaning bass bottom courtesy Gordon Johnson. Anna, though, lives in a world splintered into disorder by a departed lover, is haunted by her loss, even in a restless sleep when she “dreams of a troubled past/And about the one who’s gone before…” The song’s narrator listens through the door as the slumbering Anna talks to him. In “Colorado Line” the action of consequence took place ten years earlier, when the singer was but a lass and grew with her beau “from a child into a lover,” but had to follow her own muse into the larger world. Now she wishes for one more chance with him—“I’d hold you close forever/for a truer love I’ll never find”—while knowing it will never be. Her marriage has collapsed, and as she drives back into Colorado, where the romance began, she is overwhelmed by thoughts of the youthful passion the couple once shared. With a full band shuffling briskly behind her in a soundscape punctuated by banjo, subdued pedal steel, and a tasty mandolin solo by Josh Williams, Schlegel becomes her song, conjuring both the soaring, exuberant hope the dream of reconciliation brings and the ache of reality setting in, with some emotional help along the way courtesy the warm harmonies of Randy Kohrs, who also made a memorable appearance on Schlegel’s superb 2008 album, For All The World To See, which included the song “Hills of South Dakota,” a thematic predecessor of “Colorado Line” in its heart-rending chronicle of a long-ago summer love. The lush country strains of “I Never Loved You Cowboy” (Kohrs again sits in on harmony vocals, to great effect) frame the first of two back-to-back songs in which the singer wants us to believe she was never in too deep with the story's male protagonist; despite its plaintive assertions to the contrary, the wrinkle in Schlegel’s fragile voice tells us otherwise. Much the same phenomenon occurs in “I Never Needed You,” a low-key country kissoff of an unfeeling, self-absorbed beau, but when her voice rises in the chorus on “I never needed…” and tails off before she can utter “you,” as Brian Fesler steps in with a forceful, rolling banjo line, well, the jig is up.

Becky Schlegel, ‘Don’t Be Angry’ and ‘If You Leave Me,’ from her 2007 album, Heartaches

Leading up to the closing “If I Were a Poet,” Dandelion comes down hard on the side of poignant reflection and grievous loss—in another country ballad, “When It Rains” (in which Schlegel both laments a fleeting romance with a trucker and admits her culpability in carnality, “I didn’t need to understand/I knew you were a traveling man”); in the lilting “Cincinnati,” a captivating love song about a chance encounter between two travelers stranded in an airport, the man going home to see his mother, the girl falling hard for “a man who loves his mama,” and tenderly, wispily caressing his opening gambit to her in the lovely chorus, “Hello, pretty girl/what’s your name/what’s in your world/hello, pretty girl, hello…”; and in the penultimate number, “Reunion,” about a pre-planned twenty-year reunion of high school lovers in their home town, the touching scenes from then and now, and the tearful leaving to return to their other lives—but in the plaintive chorus, sung by Schlegel with a beautiful restraint that betrays the roiling emotions underneath her cool exterior, we feel the full impact of the past colliding with the present in a single fleeting but powerful moment. There’s no reason for Becky Schlegel to use the conditional tense in her closing number, “If I Were a Poet.” There’s really no “if” about it. Working magic with words and music, and in ways known only to poets, Becky Schlegel understands indelible truths about hearts and souls, and the affections lingering therein. We are blessed to have the artist share the secret handshake with us.

Becky Schlegel’s Dandelion is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024